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House of Cards, Downton Abbey, The Walking Dead and other conundrums of 21st-century TV.

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By Episode Seven it was all starting to run together: Frank Underwood hatches a devious plan, said plan verges on falling apart, Frank figures a way — usually the most unseemly way possible — to salvage it. Episode ends, and the Netflix-provided countdown to the next episode begins anew. I needed to take a breath.

Now I’m saving those last five episodes. I’ll get to them eventually, and I’ll enjoy the hell out of them. But once Episode 13 has come and gone, that’s it for some time — perhaps as long as a year (Netflix has paid for another 13 episodes, but they haven’t even begun shooting them yet). Better to wean myself off slowly. As I learned from Lost, binge-watcher withdrawal is a bitch.

11: David Warner

I’m at a crucial House of Cards moment.

With 11 episodes down and two to go, I now know what happens to a key figure in the series.

But — HOUSE OF CARDS SPOILER ALERT, SORT OF — I can’t say I was shocked.

As for what just happened on Downton Abbey — DOWNTON ABBEY SPOILER ALERT, DEFINITELY — now that was a shock.

The death of Matthew Crawley was foreshadowed, but only if you’d heard that actor Dan Stephens had not signed up for Season 4. Even then you figured that the reason for Matthew’s departure from the series would be divorce, or bankruptcy, or a maybe a nice vacation in America. The producers had already killed lovely Lady Sibyl; they wouldn’t bump off the series’ romantic hero, too, would they? But then, as the season finale was drawing to a close, there was Matthew, driving blithely along in his motorcar, and you knew this would not end well.

Many thousands of fans have expressed outrage at this development, mostly along the lines of Facebook posts like “Matthew? NOOOOOOOoooooooo....!” I wasn’t angry, just surprised — and sad. I liked Matthew, and not just because of that fabulous hair. Maybe the ending heaped a little bit too much woe on one family to be believable, but it still left me intrigued by what will happen to everyone — to Mary, to Matthew’s mother, to Downton — in Season Four, many months from now.

Which brings me back to House of Cards.

The thing about this series is that it’s so drenched in dread, and the main protagonists are so ruthless, that you pretty much are expecting from the first episode that something awful is going to happen to someone. And it does. And probably will again.

I’m reserving judgment until I see episodes 12 and 13, but the difference I’m realizing between the House of Downton and the House of Cards is that, actually, I don’t much care what happens to the HoC people. I’m fascinated by Kevin Spacey’s latest variation on oily villainy. I’m even more fascinated by Robin Wright’s icy control. The insider view of Congressional machinations is scarily credible, the characters’ motivations in both the political and journalistic spheres believably flawed and complex.

But will I miss them when they’re gone? Time will tell. But it occurs to me that I might be more obsessed with HoC if I hadn’t watched it so obsessively — if I’d given myself more time between episodes so I didn’t weary of the doom-laden visuals or the legislative sausage-making.

I know I’m going to finish it. But maybe if I’d watched it the way I watched Downtown Abbey — one episode at a time, with about a week between each — I might be enjoying myself more.

Maybe binge-watching isn’t good for you — or for the series you’re watching.

UPDATE: OK, I took some time, returned to Netflix to watch the final two episodes, and boy, were they good. Some of the best writing in the series so far, including the introduction of a worthy opponent for Spacey’s Congressman Underwood, a tycoon masterfully underplayed by Gerald McRaney. And yes, there’s a cliffhanger, or actually cliffhangers — but the intrigue is not so much in what does happen but in what hasn’t happened — yet. I am now officialy hooked.

26: Arielle Stevenson

First off, I’ve been told to confess that I’ve watched all 13 nearly-hour long episodes of House of Cards twice. But, I don’t have cable (or broadcast) television and Netflix (alongside Crackle and Hulu) is my primary form of media digestion. I am a binge-watcher. If I can’t stream all the episodes at once, I probably won’t watch it. Some call it obsession; I call it dedication.

I was a diehard fan of Aaron Sorkin’s West Wing. But I never really noticed just how patriotic West Wing was until I watched House of Cards. As I watched the characters fall from grace at a skydive-like pace, I kept thinking, this could really happen. Worse, this may have happened already and we don’t even know about it, given the historical evidence of democracy’s underbelly. At first it’s fun, but the darkness that results toward the later half of the show is unsettling. Leading the charge is the incredibly conniving Congressman Francis “Frank” Underwood (Kevin Spacey). Claire Underwood (Robin Wright) is a smoking hot, ice cold powerhouse. To call Frank and Claire a power couple would be the understatement of the century; they are the power couple. But their romance lacks just that: romance. It seems more like a business arrangement.

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